We know Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez will be the starters, but the Patriots have typically looked to carry a third tight end who serves in more of a blocking role. They've already brought in a number of tight ends this offseason to try and fill that No. 3 spot on the depth chart.
They also claimed tight end Jake Ballard off waivers via the Giants in June, but after tearing his ACL in Super Bowl XLVI, he may need to start off the season on the PUP list. That's where he would have ended up had he stayed with the Giants. The meeting with Shiancoe is further indication that Ballard won't be ready to go Week 1.
With that, it looks like Shiancoe could be entrenched in a battle with tight end Daniel Fells, acquired as a free-agent via the Broncos near the beginning of free agency.
With the Vikings, Shiancoe's snaps were split almost evenly between blocking and route-running, indicating a role in the offense as a well-rounded tight end. Fells, on the other hand, was a key cog in the Broncos' run-heavy read-option offense, contributing as a blocker on over two thirds of his snaps in 2011, according to Pro Football Focus.
While Shiancoe is the more statistically accomplished pass catcher, Fells offers more as a true blocking tight end. Depending on what they're looking for out of that third tight end spot, either one could have the upper hand. Who knows, the Patriots may carry four tight ends, with Hernandez serving as more of a wide receiver-tight end hybrid.
Either way, Shiancoe will likely come on the cheap; there's not much risk in giving him a chance to show some more polish as a blocker at training camp.